by E.L. James
Vintage, 514 pp., US$15.95 (paper)
A great deal of modern narrative follows this strategy for having one’s cake and eating it: a certain transgression is desired, but the moral code that deems the act a transgression must not be undermined, or even openly opposed. Nicholson Baker had much sophisticated fun with this tension in his erotic novels Vox and The Fermata. The latter imagines a man who has the power to stop the world, freezing everything in a static moment, while within this “fermata” he is able to move around and manipulate whatever he wants with complete impunity. It’s an extraordinary facility, but instead of using it to accumulate wealth or change the world in some dramatic way, he merely undresses beautiful girls, fantasizes, masturbates, dresses the girls again, and removes all evidence of what has happened. As much pleasure appears to be taken from the fact that the world has not been at all changed or violated as from the secret possession of female beauty and consequent sexual pleasure.